A Muslim scholar who was accused of speaking out against hijras has clarified his views to say they are ‘human beings with equal rights’.
Faiz Syed, founder and president of India's Islamic Research Center (IRC), was featured on a YouTube video talking about hijras, part of an intersex and transgender subculture in India.
Differing English translations of his video sparked controversy. Some said he was attacking hijras while others claimed he was being progressive.
But in a set of clarifications, Syed insists he is supportive to the hijra community.
He indicates he only was talking about intersex hijras – not other transgender, gay or lesbian people.
And he says they should not be treated badly, as they often are, but deserve equal rights.
In Indian culture, hijras are sometimes feared and rejected but are simultaneously seen as having a magical presence, bringing luck and blessings.
Now Syed has said he did not want to imply hijras are ‘dirty’ or ‘defected’ and has sent additional notes to clarify the translation of his video to explain how his remarks should be interpreted.
In reality, few hijras are born intersex and the community also includes LGBT people and others living in a closed society. But Syed says he is referring only to intersex people, who he calls ‘eunuchs’ in common parlance.
He says: ‘They are human being with equal rights in society and society should not be treated badly as is done in general with these people. Due to our bad treatment they form a different community.’
He says there is a Hadith, or saying of Muhammad, about hijras, but not all of them are included.
‘I said [the Hadith] is about those eunuchs which are bad [and] should not be kept working in our homes. It does not mean they should be completely boycotted.
‘And my video was for clarifying doubt about eunuchs in society [so people know] not to degrade them. The video has nothing to [do] with transgender, lesbian, gay or other [people].’
He has also said he did not mean to imply intersex people were ‘defected’ and was merely trying to explain the genetic differences in a way an Urdu speaker would understand.
In a revised version of the translation, he says: ‘They are Allah’s complete creation. They comprehensively have the same status in Allah's eyes as we have.’
And in a sign he wants a progressive attitude to prevail towards hijras he says they are ‘good’ but suggests society has treated them unfairly.
Syed says in his revised translation: ‘They are not bad. In every society they have been called bad and removed and shunned. On the basis of this, they form their own communities and do a lot of debauchery, a lot of seduction and they become much more vulnerable to bad things.
‘According to what is stated in the Hadith, those hijras or mukhannas [biological males who live as women but do not change their biological gender] who are dirty – those that have to be removed from the [house] – are those who are not the good ones, but the bad ones.’
And he adds they are not mentioned in the Koran but can live as good Muslims.
‘Whichever of the two genders they tend more towards, if towards the men, then they can include themselves in the pious men, if towards women then they can include themselves among the pious women,’ Syed says.
Farhan Patel, a British gay Muslim and member of the LGBT Muslim group Imaan, has been speaking to Syed to help him clarify his remarks.
Patel told Gay Star News: ‘It is important to have progressive Muslims like that especially because he is from the straight community.
‘The reason it is important is because it is always the LGBT community trying to make Muslims more liberal but we also need people from the heterosexual community saying this too.
‘It liberates people in India and around the world.’